HomeReviewsEven Elisabeth Moss Can’t Save ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5

Even Elisabeth Moss Can’t Save ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5

Over two decades of TV, the burden placed on Elisabeth Moss’ face would leave a lesser actor permanently disfigured. “Mad Men” pushed Peggy from a surprise pregnancy through bitter battles with a bitchy boss. “Top of the Lake” cast her as a sexual assault specialist. Hell, even “The West Wing” put President Bartlet’s daughter, Zoey, through a traumatic kidnapping plot. And then there’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a show that could’ve been titled, “How To Endure Oppression.” For five seasons (so far), June Osborne has been the audience’s envoy into a world of overt misogyny, casual torture, and emotional anguish, which makes Moss’ visage our primary translator of oft-unimaginable depravity.

Reed Morano, the Emmy-winning Season 1 director and series’ visual tone-setter, recognized that framing June’s plight via extreme close-ups and long, lingering shots could utilize the intimacy afforded by television to build a deeper connection to a dystopian story.

But five years and 54 episodes later, both the series and its star are hitting their limits. For creator and showrunner Bruce Miller, the cracks have been evident for at least a few seasons, as repetitions and redundancies were magnified by the arduous nature of a grueling narrative.

(You can only see the same bad shit happen to the same good people for so long.) An all-star cast of Emmy winners Ann Dowd, Alexis Bledel, Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, and Samira Wiley, along with Emmy nominees Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes, O-T Fagbenle, Kelly Jenrette, Max Minghella, McKenna Grace, and Madeline Brewer can only breathe so much life into scenes covering similar ground. (And yes, those are just the actors’ accolades for this show.)

But Moss, also an Emmy winner for “Handmaid’s,” never faltered. Every time the camera moved within millimeters of her exhausted, furious, or otherwise expressive face, her elasticity, tenacity, or sheer force of will managed to convey considerable meaning.

That’s why, during select scenes of Season 5, it’s so peculiar to be taken out of a scene centered on Moss. At least one instance feels like the actor is simply scraping the bottom of the barrel, searching for a new articulation of distress in a character who’s been through them all. In other moments, she’s let down by the elements around her: Either an anticipated piece of exposition rings hollow, or June’s internal arcs are trimmed short, steered back to familiar territory where the onus again falls on Moss to make them feel fresh.

Season 5 picks up in the aftermath of June’s revenge against her captor and rapist, Commander Fred Waterford (Fiennes), who she ripped apart with her bare hands (and teeth!), along with a dozen or so other angry handmaids. But taking her hunk of flesh in No Man’s Land — an area outside of U.S. or Canadian governance — wasn’t enough; June wants the rest of her enemies to know what she’s done, so she also mailed his ring finger, wedding band included, to Serena Waterford (Strahovski).

Such a vehement turn to the dark side is going to take some unpacking — so, of course, this is the one area “Handmaid’s” speeds through. Rather than wrestle with her desire for vigilante justice, June comes to a quick conclusion that’s never properly challenged or reconsidered. Over eight episodes (of 10 total), she’s tested from time to time, but there’s no suspense to each trial because we’ve already seen June make her choice, and the repeated, halfhearted attempts that ask us to doubt her conviction only grow duller by the episode.

Serena’s arc is similarly mismanaged. Without getting into spoilers, “Handmaid’s” makes another move toward timeliness by turning June’s safehaven against her. Canada, if you can imagine, becomes a less-than-hospitable host, both through the hateful protests of a vocal minority and the questionable choices of its government. Liberals living in Biden’s America after Roe v. Wade’s reversal should have no problem identifying with June’s frustrations, fears, and, yes, even violence. When you can’t trust the people who promise to protect your basic human rights, going rogue as a means to safeguard yourself, your family, and future generations seems like the only practical choice.

The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 Hulu Yvonne Strahovski

Yvonne Strahovski in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Courtesy of Hulu

But even with the ideal narrative set-up provided by Season 4’s ending — June finally got a taste for payback, and she “loved it” — the exploration itself is stunted, and soon dissipates. Season 5 keeps bureaucracy at arm’s length, using it when it needs to move people into place and abandoning it when inconvenient. Without seeing the season finale (which, by all accounts, won’t be the series finale), the story is still filled with minor resolutions that disrupt any kind of significant anticipation. To say “Handmaid’s” argues both sides should simply hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” would be an exaggeration — there’s more nuance to its eventual takeaway, albeit slight — but that’s nevertheless how it can feel to anyone still angry, scared, and seeking a proper outlet for these feelings.

As a whole, the season appears content to gesture toward real-world parallels without grabbing hold, and certain characters are similarly distanced from the main plot. (Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia is especially forsaken.) Curiosity dwindles, as well. The one question left after eight episodes is one that’s been asked since early seasons.

For some, citing limitations within “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t anything new. The series has leaned on its lead’s incredible abilities for years, and Moss’ recent roles aren’t always distinct from her time in Gilead. (“Shining Girls,” a sneaky-great Apple TV+ mystery, proved particularly reminiscent for select fans of Moss.) Still others won’t care. Moss remains an aughts-era TV star, deserving all the acclaim and allegiance once given to stars of the silver screen (before movie stars were replaced by superheroes and intellectual property). But no matter your impression of the actor tasked with fueling a hit show for a few more seasons, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is spinning its wheels in Season 5.

Grade: C

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 5 premiered Thursday, September 8 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The new season will premiere Wednesday, September 14 on Hulu with two episodes. New episodes will be released weekly.

15 Interesting Facts About Elisabeth Moss

Over a 30-year span, Elizabeth Moss has developed quite the resume. Through her willingness to take on radical roles she has proven she has a talent unmatched.

She has become a household name, with three hit television shows on her resume, West WingMad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, and numerous guest appearances. And now with the newly released science fiction/horror film Invisible Man, she is currently working her way to proving she’s a box office star too.

With each role she takes she reveals her acting range, thus continuing to rise to higher levels of fame. From her supporting role as Polly in Girl, Interrupted to her role as Detective Robin Griffin in the mini-series Top of the Lake, there are no limits to what she can do on screen.

Let’s take a moment to find out more about the successful actress. Here are 15 interesting facts about Elisabeth Moss!

15 Artistry Runs In The Family

Elisabeth Singleton Moss was born in Los Angeles, California to musicians Ron and Linda Moss. The actress has shared she always knew she wanted to be a performer. So much so she began being homeschooled to manage her career and education, graduating at age 16.

This innate desire to perform could be because her parents were performers too, her mother played blues harmonica and her English father was a jazz artist.

Moss has one sibling, Derek, a younger brother by 18 months who works in the industry as a filmmaker.

14 First On-Screen Appearance

The starlet’s first on-screen appearance came at the mere age of seven-years-old. In 1990, she played Sandra Bullock’s six-year-old daughter, Lucky, in an NBC miniseries called Lucky Chances.

Even at a young age, she proved she had acting chops. Call it luck or hard work whatever it is she has it.

13 Dance Fever

Before falling in love with acting Moss studied ballet. She even traveled to New York City to study at the School of American Ballet and to Washington D.C. where she studied with Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy Center.

In 2018, she produced the Hulu documentary Ballet Now.

12 Scientology

The Mad Men star has been a member of the Church of Scientology since she was a kid.

For the most part, the star keeps quiet about her involvement to the public but she has openly defended her beliefs.

Fun fact: Moss use to be friends with ex-Scientologists Leah Remini. It is said that part of the Scientology belief is that once a person leaves the Church, any friends or family members that remain are not allowed to maintain a relationship.

11 Cubs Fan

Moss is a baseball fan, more specifically a Chicago Cubs fan. She is a fourth-generation Cubs fan on her mom’s side. She often shares her love for the team on her Instagram page and has had the opportunity to throw a ceremonial first pitch at a Cubs game.

10 Break Out Role… Or Should We Say Roles

Starting her career at a young age and maintaining a good work ethic has led her to develop a long and successful resume, making it hard to decipher which role is a true break out role.

Was it her role as Polly in Girl, Interrupted, where she played a burn victim alongside Angelina Jolie Moss and Winona Ryder? Or her recurring role as Zoey Bartlet on the award-winning series The West Wing.  She is more notably known for her portrayal as Peggy Olson on Mad Men, so maybe it’s that?

A Friendly Voice

Voiceover work is also on her long resume. After voicing Holly, one of the leads, in Frosty Returns (1992) she went on to work on Batman: The Animated SeriesAnimaniacsIt’s Spring TrainingCharlie Brown and The Simpsons.

Guest Appearances Galore

Like most working actors guest starring or featuring on television shows is just another day of work. Looking at Moss’ resume she’s been working nonstop.

Some of her notable guest appearances are Grey’s AnatomyGhost WhispererLaw & Order: Criminal IntentInvasion, and Picket Fences.

TV Icon

It’s an understatement to say this actress has dominated the television screen. Since her start in the industry, she captivated audiences with in-depth characters. From her portrayal of the first daughter on the award-winning drama, The West Wing to her award nominated role of Peggy on Mad Men,  and now her heart wrenching, dominating, award-winning role as June/Offred/Ofjoseph she’s earned her title as a TV icon.

Did you notice the three shows she’s starred on has received numerous awards?

Broadway Star

During her time on Mad Men the actress doubled her work, making her Broadway debut in October 2008. She took on the role of Karen in the 20th-anniversary revival of Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet. In March 2015, she starred on Broadway as Heidi Holland in The Heidi Chronicles, which earned her a Tony nomination.

Moss has also taken her talents to London’s West End theatre. She made her debut in January 2011 at The Comedy Theater in London as Martha Dobie in Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour.

Marriage

Moss met the Saturday Night Live alum, Fred Armisen, on the set of SNL when her Mad Men co-star Jon Hamm was hosting the sketch show. After only a year of dating the two tied the knot in October 2009 but unfortunately, the marriage only lasted eight months. Armisen, 16 years her senior, admitted in an interview with Howard Stern that he was a terrible husband.

Self Proclaimed Cat Lady & Loner

Though the star enjoys working in an industry that’s all about the spotlight she openly admits to being a loner and preferring to stay home. Maybe not completely a loner because she also identifies as a self-proclaimed cat lady.

She’s a proud owner of two orange tabby cats, Ethel and Lucy, that she adopted. For Halloween, she dressed Ethel in a Handmaid’s costume. Despite the history behind the attire on the show, the costume was quite adorable.

From Actor To Producer

The Hulu original series, The Handmaid’s Tale, a web television adaptation of the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, is one of Moss’ first producer credits. The actress shared with Indiewire, ” For me, to have a voice in this industry after doing this for 28 years, to be able to have a say in anything – it’s like crack.” 

Fellow producer, Warren Littlefield shared, “Yes, she is our star, but she’s our leader. And as a producer, she’s done her homework.”

Sounds like she takes her job seriously and it shows! She’s also produced Her SmellLight from Light and the previously mentioned Ballet Now.

Gold Statues Are A Star’s Best Friend

Moss has won numerous nominations and awards for her performances on television, including two Primetime Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.

For her role on Mad Men, she was a repeated contender for an Emmy award but never won. It wasn’t until her role in The Handmaid’s Tale she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She also won another Emmy as a producer for The Handmaid’s Tale in the category Outstanding Best Drama Series.

Her two Golden Globes were for Top of the Lake, Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film and The Handmaid’s Tale, Best Actress – Television Drama Series.

Net Worth

With over 80 acting credits to her name and upcoming movies still waiting to be released her net worth is on the rise. For Mad Men, she reportedly earned between $75,000 and $175,000 per episode, and $200,000 per episode on The Handmaid’s Tale. As of 2019, she has an estimated net worth of $14 million

Sources:

https://www.thethings.com/15-interesting-facts-about-elisabeth-moss/

https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/15/20694746/hulu-handmaids-tale-season-3-margaret-atwood-world-building-elisabeth-moss-ann-dowd

https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/handmaids-tale-season-5-review-1234759460/

https://www.filmindependent.org/events/members-only-qa-the-handmaids-tale/

https://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-elisabeth-moss/donn-saylor

https://collider.com/handmaids-tale-season-5-alexis-bledel-exits/

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